US Traffic Fatalities Fall Sharply During 1st Half of 2013

Road deaths down 4.2% – reversing upward surge in 2012.

by on Oct.31, 2013

Experts credit better safety technology for at least some of the reduction in highway fatalities.

U.S. traffic deaths fell by 4.2% during the first half of 2013, according to preliminary figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, reversing an unexpected upward surge the previous year.

The federal safety agency still estimated that 15,470 people died in all forms of motor vehicle crashes between January 1 and June 30, though that was down from the 16,150 fatalities reported during the first half of 2012. Some states, such as Ohio, are on track to have their lowest death tolls since record keeping began on a per-mile basis.

Measured in terms of fatalities per 100 million miles traveled, the rate for the first six months of the year dipped to 1.06, down from 1.10 fatalities during the first half of 2012.

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There had been some concern that the total fatality count might rise as the economy recovers, a traditional pattern that reflects more Americans taking to the road – particularly during the dangerous rush hour periods.  Government and industry officials are studying the surprising reversal to see what has contributed, instead, to the decline in deaths.

Among the possible factors various sources cite:

  • Improved passive safety systems in vehicles, including better vehicle designs and improved airbags;
  • New active technologies, such as electronic stability control which is now required in all new vehicles, and even more advanced collision avoidance systems;
  • Crackdowns on drunk and distracted driving.

Whatever the reason, the preliminary report was taken as good news.  Highway deaths had been on a sharp decline for nearly a decade before suddenly reversing course in 2012. Last year, 33,780 people were killed on U.S. roads, an increase of 4.4%.

(Are we approaching an era of “accident-free driving”? Click Here to find out.)

If the current estimate holds, road deaths will have fallen 26% since 2005.  But they’ll also have dropped by more than 40% since hitting a peak of 54,589 in 1972.  As recently as 1978 more than 50,000 Americans were killed each year in highway crashes.  The figure dropped below 40,000 in 2008 – for only the second time — dipping to 37,423.

There are some worrisome exceptions to the downward trend, however. As more and more states have eliminated motorcycles mandatory helmet laws, fatalities have been on the rise. In Michigan, total motorcycle deaths rose 18% in 2012, even though the law was changed only in April. NHTSA has not provided a breakout of motorcycle deaths for the first half of 2013.

(Technology joins the fight against distracted driving. Click Here for the story.)

Even the latest overall highway fatality numbers concern safety advocates. But new technologies could help bring the numbers down even faster, proponents contend.

“We have a clear vision of accident-free driving,” Steffen Likenbach, director of emerging technologies Continental, a major supplier of automotive safety equipment, told recently.

A number of automakers, including Nissan and Volvo, have set goals of eliminating all highway deaths in their vehicles, though when that would become practical remains to be seen.

(New Ford, Toyota systems can steer clear of pedestrians, other obstacles. Click Herefor the details.)

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4 Responses to “US Traffic Fatalities Fall Sharply During 1st Half of 2013”

  1. Jorge M. says:

    The drop is probably mainly due to less miles traveled with $4/gal. fuel prices. The only real economic recovery is in new car and airplane production. Every other area of the economy is down, dead or alternating from month to month.

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      Hi, Jorge,

      Please note that it is NOT just the raw death rate numbers that are down but, more significantly, so is the declining rate for fatalities per 100 million miles driven. That’s the real indicator.

      Paul A. Eisenstein

  2. Jorge M. says:

    Well newer cars are safer and get better mpg but $4/gal. for fuel also keeps those with less financial means from driving as much. So you have fewer cars, fewer miles driven, fewer older less safe cars and fewer drivers of questionable driving skills – all primarily due to $4/gal. fuel costs.

    Like most government statistics the next reading will likely be upwards…so I’d take everything with a large grain of salt as far as what can truly be determined from the data.

  3. Ragtop Man says:

    @Paul, exaxctly. Per mile is the real number, and you can’t fudge it.

    I would be very interested to see what types of fatalities fell the fastest. We have had thorax- head- and side-curtain airbag equipped vehicles growing as a percent of total fleet mix for several years now which must be making a huge difference. The other is the IIHS’ stronger emphasis on offset crashes which has led to significant revisions in body engineering to protect passenger compartment integrity.

    Finally, I’d give some props just to the desire for a better vehicle experience. Our GM mid-crossover is a portly 4600 lbs, but after three years of pounding on third-world roads in Detroit, it squeaks nary a peep. There’s no substitute for structure, no matter what the impact.